Meet the Poets: David Cohea

David Cohea

In Part II of my series honoring National Poetry Month, I’m pleased to showcase the work of David Cohea, General Manager of King Features Weekly Service and editor of ReMIND magazine.

“I’ve been writing poetry seriously since 1990 or so but for the past 20 years almost completely off the published radar. Back in the nineties I won several poetry prizes [the Thomas Burnett Swann Poetry Award at Seminole State College and Academy of American Poets Prize at Rollins College] and published in a few college literary mags. Since then most of my work has appeared online under a pen name. I find that the mask allows me to speak more honestly and deeply about the heart; history is mystery when spoken through the ritual mask.”

In 2013 David published the eBook Over Here, a collection of narrative poems about the Iraq-Afghanistan wars as they continue to be fought by returning vets, “raising the question whether it’s their war or our peace that is making healing so difficult.”

Please join me in welcoming David to the blog.

* * *

LAMENT FOR THE WITNESS

wildflower crash

 

 

 

 

 

Dying sometimes is huge: a booming ball
of fire, fuel smoke thick and black as tar,
the wreckage of a single trope for travel
spread over six square miles of wheat.
What’s left of the living is small: Body parts
like strewn litter, torsos still buckled in seats.
The toll of the wreck’s scorn of living
is both the smashed engine and the deck
of playing cards spreading a too-late
tarot from a carry-on. Each adds the other.
But there’s no known multiple for the
monkey doll found atop the sunflowers.

The world is fast zooming in, but for an
afternoon the catastrophe is a private war
between shocked villagers and rained dead.
Little is happening in any official sense; pro-
Russian rebels have the guns and poke curiously
at wreckage with their barrels. Local miners
walk the fields marking remains with white
streamers. They cry through handkerchiefs
held to their noses because the stench of death
has caught up with what scours their eyes
every time they look. The war is thus lost by
both sides, the living halved, the fallen
from so far and high to arrive so dead.

Pity the journalists who came to pay witness
for the world to horror’s scale. One reporter
interviewed by NPR had walked the fields all night
following rescue workers tagging the dead.
Most of the bodies were intact but twisted wrong,
congealed into postures like wax effigies passed
too near the flame. At dawn they came upon
yet another child near a patch of sunflowers—
a little girl no more than three wearing just a
red shirt. So many of the dead were naked,
stripped by the ghastly angelus of their fall
from thirty-three thousand feet into the news.

The reporter’s voice was darkly calm, her chosen
words on morning drive-time radio like a tiny
swaying bridge over the outrages she had seen.
Inferring no more than the first scant facts offered,
blurring her own outraged emotions beneath them,
wearing the mask of her profession to speak the
naked truth. (We’d been warned of graphic blight.).
No matter that journalism is a falling trade.
Witness for the community has such small value
when everything is slipping into big media’s mire.
We’ll forget this horror soon enough, attracted
like bees to the sulfur stench of the next burnt
flower. Can you remember what happened to
the other Malaysian Airways jet, or is its cargo
lost because we forget our yesterdays that fast?
Who are we without those lonely figures taking
notes all night in the smouldering fields of blast?

Imagination fails at the dead’s ground zero. Instead
I wonder how the witnesses were harrowed there.
How deep the smell and carnage roots down
into the lobe their minds and hearts must share.
Then reporter was a transcription of what the locals
told her, through a translator, of the jet’s explosion
and fall; she became their wonder at the flash
and great black plume, the horror of slow descent
of shattered things falling back toward Earth,
suitcases and engines and bodies in long streamers
falling slowly in memory like tears down a face.
How does such a witness remit the reporting drone
from human face in the window when she flies home?
How can sudden birthday streamers for a child
ever not be at once both terrifying and cruel,
so scornful of the girl they that morning so alone?

On the day before the crash, in another world far
from here, a New York Times photographer
was in Gaza City covering the Israeli air assault,
staying in a small hotel by the Mediterranean Sea.
He’d just returned from taking pictures at a funeral—
a man and his son killed while driving away from
a bombed building. The afternoon was glittery
and breezy off the sea, so different from the
entombing miseries collapsing fast behind.

Three boys were playing soccer on the beach,
their voices blent with bells and cawing gulls.
Suddenly an explosion from a shack atop a seawall
then fire, a fourth boy running from the smoke.
A second explosion and the four boys—cousins
all—were sprawled dead on the sand. The man
walked onto the beach fearing his imago in the
crosshairs of Israeli guns, focusing his lens
on distraught and crying men carrying their
boys too heavily in their arms. The soft warm
sand absorbing the blood as it always has,
the sea glittering, purer than ground glass.
And the breeze beyond the frame is lifting
and fluttering, happily waving our pale strips
at the wide indifference of an arch blue sky,
the final witness to our long descending cry.

gaza-boys-on-beach

 

 

 

 

 

 

Notes

– Since 2006, about 30 percent of U.S. journalism jobs have been eliminated due to contraction in the industry.

– In 2013, 105 journalists world-wide were killed in the line of their work.  The three beats covered by most of the victims were politics, war and human rights.

– Sabrina Tavernise is the New York Times journalist who has been at the Malaysian Air crash site in eastern Ukraine from the outset. One of her stories can be read here.

 

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